COMMENT: Henfield poll row - local independents are the best way forward

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Sheila Matthews has been the model local councillor.

She has represented the community in which she lives for some 20 years and has done so with good humour, integrity and distinction.

She has aligned herself to no political party, remaining proudly independent throughout.

Her only concern at Horsham District Council has been to put the interests of Henfield and its residents first.

What a remarkable woman. We salute her.

We wish she hadn’t decided to stand down - but we respect her decision. A good politician knows when to step on to the stage and a great one knows when to bow out.

It is not surprising, though, that she has expressed concern that the local Conservative Association in her absence is fielding a councillor from some 13 miles away.

Helena Croft is currently the representative of the party in Roffey North in Horsham town.

She needs a new seat because her own Conservative Association has ditched her. When she stood for adoption she gained just six out of three dozen votes.

Her fellow Conservatives don’t want her representing them on the council anymore and some of them have told us they are appalled she has accepted an invitation to cling on to power by taking the only vacancy available in Arundel and the South Downs.

That she has won so few friends amongst her own party in Horsham is hardly surprising. Her actions over North Horsham development, over the spending spree on West Street, and her attitude to the town centre in general have caused nothing but controversy.

She has ignored every invitation to sign this newspaper’s Free Speech Charter - supported by Lib Dems, Independents, UKIP, and senior Tories alike.

The Charter states: “I undertake to speak, write and vote on behalf of my constituents without fear or favour of party discipline. If I am a member of a political party, I will respect its values and honour its pre-election manifesto pledges - but I will always put first the people I am elected to serve.”

What is there in this that the potential councillor for Henfield cannot support?

Instead, as a badge of honour, Mrs Croft emblazons her Twitter account with a quote from Winston Churchill: “You have enemies. Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Being a local councillor is about being a good friend. Such a statement, worthy though it might be in wartime, has no place in representing your community.

If she has made enemies, it is not amongst those who stand against her - it is within the ranks of her own party in Horsham.

The current Conservative administration on HDC has been a miserable affair - resorting to a secret court against one of its fellow Tories Christian Mitchell because he dared to speak out against development and chucking him out as chairman elect and giving it to fellow Henfield councillor Brian O’Connell.

This newspaper does not take party political sides.

But we say this.

The people of Henfield deserve better than a councillor flown in because no-one else wants them, who refuses to sign up to a statement in support of them, and whose guiding motto is a pride in having enemies.

Let’s hope that two good, local people will stand to represent the village as proud Independents in May.

There could be no finer legacy to the wonderful work of Mrs Matthews over so many years.

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